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3/18/2004

Nutropin Counterfeiter Pleads Guilty

Kate Traynor

A Texas man pled guilty this month to four federal charges related to prescription drug fraud, including the counterfeiting of Genentech Inc.'s somatropin product Nuptropin AQ, according to an announcement yesterday from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to FDA, Hadi M. Ghandour, through his plea, admitted to his role in "a conspiracy to sell unapproved, misbranded, counterfeit, and Schedule I controlled drugs from 1999 to 2001."

The Nutropin counterfeiting episode came to light in mid-2001, when vials labeled as containing 10 mg of the drug were instead found to contain insulin.

Ghandour admitted to law enforcement investigators that he had purchased vials of insulin and relabeled them as Nutropin AQ, according to FDA.

Ghandour, who was convicted in 1998 of counterfeiting drug labels, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the four new charges, according to FDA.

In addition to counterfeiting Nutropin, FDA stated that Ghandour was involved in illegal schemes to sell the thyroid hormone triiodothyroacetic acid; the gamma-hydroxybutyric acid precursor 1,4-butanediol; 4-bromo-2, 5-imethoxyphenethylamine, also known as 2CB or Nexus; and N-benzylpiperazine, which can be combined with another drug to produce effects similar to those of the controlled substance 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as ecstasy.

FDA stated that Ghandour had operated, in part, from the Web site genapharm.com. Established in August 1997 by Leander, Texas-based GenaPharm Inc., genapharm.com ostensibly sold sports and bodybuilding supplements.

Today, the Web site operates as gennapharm.com, which was established in September 2001 and whose product line includes updated versions of products from the original site and another Ghandour-owned company. Parent company GenaPharm is now known as GennaPharm Inc.

According to FDA, GenaPharm employee Derek Ettinger and another man, Joel Desmarais, assisted Ghandour in his illegal activities. Ettinger was sentenced last year to 30 months in federal prison for his role in the scheme. Desmaris last year received a 36-month supervised-release sentence for "introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce and aiding and abetting," the agency stated.

FDA Senior Associate Commissioner William K. Hubbard, in testimony before a U.S. Senate committee in 2002, stated that five people connected with the Nutropin counterfeiting had been arrested so far—two of them for selling heroin to an undercover agent.